Benton Co. seat move fails to gain supermajority

KENNEWICK — A majority of Benton County voters appeared to support relocating the county seat from Prosser to Kennewick in early results counted Tuesday, but that still would not be enough for the measure to pass.

The measure requires at least 60 percent -- a supermajority -- to succeed, and the unofficial count was 56 percent supporting the move, with 44 percent opposed.

The difference was 4,598 votes, which was 1,512 votes short of reaching a supermajority.

More than 38,000 ballots were counted Tuesday night. But with as many as 20,000 ballots to be counted, Auditor Brenda Chilton said the county seat relocation question will remain unanswered for days.

But opponents of the move were feeling optimistic.

"We're pretty elated about the results. It's looking pretty darn favorable," said Deb Brumley, a member of Benton County Citizens for Responsible Government, a committee leading opposition to relocating the county seat.

Brumley said she heard the news minutes after the polls closed. "We went to the courthouse in Prosser and we got it hot off the press. It was the best of the best ... getting the news we wanted at the location we wanted," she said.

Brumley said she and two other members of the committee, Keith Sattler and Deb Heintz, were grateful to the voters.

"I'm overjoyed the voters were prudent and got the message we wanted them to hear," she said.

Fred Staples, the retired county superior court judge who gathered 23,600 petition signatures to force the county seat question to the ballot, was more than disappointed.

"I'll tell ya I'm shocked. I thought it would go as a landslide," he said.

Staples said the "Prosser propaganda machine worked again, almost exactly the same as 1984."

Staples said he got the issue before voters then, only to see Prosser opposition block the county seat relocation move by virtually the same margin, 55 percent to 45 percent.

"(The opponents) told unadulterated lies. People in this county just don't understand the problem," Staples said.

He believes the county has to move the county seat because most of the county government, including courts, already has been moved to Kennewick.

"I did this because I felt an obligation to do it," Staples said.

Staples said he feels he was made a target in the campaign, and some of the opponents to the county seat move owe him an apology.

"I blame the county commissioners. They sabotaged this all along. I am mad," he said.

But Staples, who is 77, said he has no plans to bring the issue back.

"It took a lot of effort and it cost me plenty, about $15,000 of my own money," he said.

Judy Golberg, a member of the Citizens for Moving the County Seat, said voters were provided not enough good information and much misinformation.

"This shows there has been a lot of interest and perhaps a lot of information that wasn't understood. And there was misinformation," she said.

"No one in our group was willing to say anything that wasn't the truth or facts. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be what people are interested in. People don't buy into facts as much as passion," Golberg said.

The League of Women Voters in Benton and Franklin counties and Benton County Superior Court judges supported relocating the seat.

Golberg noted her committee raised and spent less than $3,000 in the effort, while campaign reports filed with the state by Benton County Citizens for Good Government showed more than $16,000 raised and spent.

"We didn't have anything to lose or gain like the Prosser folks, and they felt very threatened by this," Golberg said.

With about 20,000 votes left to be counted, there was potential the gap could close by up to 2 percent, but Brumley doubted it will be enough to move the county seat.

Staples agreed. "I think it's a large number to overcome," he said.

"The auditor and assessor (who've said they want to move employees from Prosser to Kennewick) are just stuck," he said.

Brumley said she believes the voters understood the basic message that a county seat move could cost millions of dollars.

"There were too many unknowns about it and I think people were unwilling to support that," she said.

-- John Trumbo: 509-582-1529; jtrumbo@tricityherald.com